Molpus forest land to remain open
St. Paul — Deer and grouse hunters, and others who recreate in the northeast, will be able to access private lands that had been under threat of closure. A tentative agreement between two northern lawmakers and the Molpus Woodlands Group means the company won’t block access to its lands before the conclusion of the 2013 legislative session.
Molpus owns about 286,000 acres of land in the northern part of the state; about 128,000 acres had been at risk of closure largely because of a change in state tax law that saw tax breaks for Molpus reduced from more than $2 million to $100,000.
In a new released issued late last week, Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said they reached a tentative agreement with Molpus “that will provide for public access to Molpus land for the duration of 2012 and continuing through the close of the 2013 legislative session.”
The Molpus land, which it bought from Forest Capital Partners last summer, had been enrolled in the Sustainable Forestry Incentives Act, which paid private landowners to, among other things, manage land sustainably and keep it open to public access.
However, payments to individual landowners were capped at $100,000 in 2010. In a statement, Molpus said it wants to keep its land open to public access, but that it isn’t possible at that level.
“It is Molpus Timberlands Management’s strong preference to continue this partnership as to all the private land we manage in Minnesota,” the company’s statement said. “Because of the risk of liability and the costs of keeping these lands open, it is not feasible without resumed state participation to include these private acres back into the SFIA program.
“However, due to recent positive meetings and assurances from state and local officials to resolve this issue during the 2013 Minnesota legislative session, Molpus has decided to leave the lands open through the conclusion of the 2013 legislative session.”
In their statement, Bakk and Dill said they couldn’t assure the company of any outcomes, but said they would work “tirelessly” to solve the issue.
“We will work to pass legislation that will effectuate our mutual goals, one of which is to assure continued public access to Molpus lands by working on both sides of the political aisle, with the Lessard (Sams) Outdoor Heritage Council and the Governor’s office,” the two lawmakers said.
There are a variety of potential solutions, including easements that would maintain public access. In the past, for example, the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council recommended funding – and the Legislature approved – a 189,000-acre forest conservation easement in northern Minnesota.
Other options includes changes to state tax policy, said Bob Meier, DNR legislative affairs director.
“We’re going to be involved in a lot of those discussions,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of the state to ensure these lands remain accessible, intact, and part of a large-scale working forest.”
Such lands have been de facto public lands for years, and hunters and others have used them both for recreation and to access cabins and other lands.
Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said resorts would have been hurt by closure of the Molpus lands. And depending on how extensive the closure had been the result could have been “cataclysmic” for hunters, snowmobile riders, and others.
“I’m glad the company is willing to slow down their process a little bit and give the Legislature and stakeholders a chance to catch up,” Johnson said.